British PM announces stepping down as Labour leader

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British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced Monday he will stand down as Labour leader by September, and that his party is to hold formal talks on a power-sharing deal with the Liberal Democrats.

Brown said he would "ask the Labour party to set in train the processes needed for its own leadership contest" but he would "play no part", adding he hoped a successor will be in place for Labour's annual conference in September.

In the same dramatic statement, Brown said Labour was to hold formal talks with the Liberal Democrats -- who are already talking to the Conservatives -- on forming a government after Thursday's general election ended in stalemate.

Brown's decision to step down after three years in charge will be seen as an olive branch by centre-left Labour to the centrist Lib Dems in a bid to woo them away from the centre-right Conservatives.

Speaking outside his Downing Street residence, he said it was "in the interests of the whole country to form a progressive coalition government".

"The reason that we have a hung parliament is that no single party and no single leader was able to win the full support of the country," Brown said.

"As leader of my party, I must accept that that is a judgement on me.

"I therefore intend to ask the Labour party to set in train the processes needed for its own leadership election.

"I would hope that it would be completed in time for the new leader to be in post by the time of the Labour Party conference" in September.

He added: "I will play no part in that contest. I will back no individual candidate."

Referring to the talks with the Lib Dems about creating a "progressive coalition", Brown said: "In addition to the economic priorities, in my view, only such a progressive government could meet the demand for political and electoral change which the British people made last Thursday."

The Lib Dems, the third-biggest party, have long campaigned for Britain's first-past-the-post system to be changed to a system of proportional representation. The Conservatives have always opposed such a move.

In making his initial offer of power-sharing talks to the Lib Dems in the wake of the election, Brown said Labour would offer them a referendum on changes to the electoral system.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg chose first to talk to the Conservatives, saying David Cameron's party had earned the right because they had won the most seats in the election.

© 2010 AFP

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